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Guest column: Scholarship giving kids with special needs new options

POSTED: January 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Approximately two years ago, my son was diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome. Even though our doctor and I disagreed with a few of the school’s original observations, I was excited that Jacob was finally going to get some badly needed assistance in his public school.

There was a paradox to Jacob’s condition, however. Even though he consistently made good grades and had perfect attendance, he was barely reading on grade level.

The public school teachers at his middle school worked very hard with him, and I am grateful for their effort. But it was still a struggle for him just to write one or two sentences. All the extra assistance offered him still left him behind. Toss in the daily worries of just getting the correct books for the each class and then making it to six different classes each day, it’s easy to understand why middle school was not very productive for Jacob. It was a complicated maze for a child with special needs.

As a result, I continued to research methods to help decrease his daily anxiety and worries that consumed his mind.

But as I started to look for other options for Jacob, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Georgia legislature adopted the new special needs scholarship program this year. Since both my husband and I work to support our family, we were concerned whether this program would truly fit our budget. But when we applied for the state scholarship this fall and discovered Jacob qualified for enough to attend the Ava White Academy in Gainesville, we were elated. We saw this as a great option to provide Jacob a less stressful environment so he can learn what he needs to learn.

Jacob is now one of about 900 Georgia students who have been fortunate enough this first year of the program to earn the scholarship. From what I understand, 70 percent of these scholarship recipients are boys and the largest number are in the fifth grade, just like Jacob.

It is a program I never would have imagined just a year or two ago as my husband and I worked late every night trying to understand Jacob’s learning process and how he could earn such high grades yet was exhausted just trying to read a book.

I now take Jacob to school every day, as I work in Gainesville. The Ava White Academy has offered him much smaller classes, and he doesn’t have the stress of changing classes as he would in a large middle school.

He has gone from barely reading a few sentences to zipping through books, all since he switched schools in September. I don’t know if it is his skill set or the smaller classes that have given him the confidence he needs.

He is even doing cursive writing, which he tried to do before but it was too loopy and he couldn’t even read his own writing. They are using a different technique to teach him at his new school. His writing is more legible, even though we continue to work on his spelling.

To me the best part is he isn’t talking about the worry of just getting to each class. School will probably never be his favorite pastime, but I believe he has gained not only the skills, but the confidence to push himself to achieve more than he ever imagined.

I have to say thank you to his former public school teachers in Banks County because if they had not done such a good job of documenting his situation, he may not have qualified for the scholarship. The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship really has given Jacob a second chance.

Dena Chapman is a resident of Banks County.



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